The conservation of teddy bears
Teddy bears are much loved toys and comforters, but in the course of being cuddled and played with they become soiled and damaged. Ears are torn, paws worn away; they become distorted and grubby. Because of their importance to their owners they are not usually discarded and replaced like worn out clothes; their lives are extended through darning, patching and other home repairs. Some teddy bears are passed onto subsequent generations where they suffer further wear and tear.
In a museum their purpose changes; they become objects in a collection, in this instance at the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood.
Conservation of these teddy bears involved removing the old repairs - some of which had distorted the original form, and maintaining all that remained of the original object. (Of course if the object had an important provenance it may have been that the repairs were of interest too).They were cleaned and returned to their original shapes.
Click on the images below for larger versions and further details.
Teddy Bear, Schuco
Stuffed and sewn mohair plush with internal metal mechanism
Museum no. MISC.6-1978
Teddy Bear shown after conservation beside X-Ray image
The bears were strung together in a similar but varying configuration, and X-rays enabled us to see the internal metallic components without taking the bears apart. The 'Schuco' bears had an internal armature connecting the tail to the head so that when the tail was wagged, the head turned from side to side. Where there were voice box 'growlers' they had almost always perforated.
Teddy bear, about 1905. Museum no. MISC.566-1984
Gold Yorkshire cloth plush, with embroidered nose, mouth and claws
Museum no. MISC.566-1984
Teddy bear shown before and after conservation
Wood wool stuffing (fine wood shavings), traditionally used to stuff the bears, had the tendency to break up and compact, leaving the arms out of shape, so they were reshaped with extra stuffing and some careful manipulation. One teddy bear had spent 60 years in a baby's dress which had constricted the arms and caused them to distort.
Teddy Bear, about 1905. Museum no. MISC.566-1984
Yorkshire cloth, wearing embroidered woolen dress
Museum no. MISC.566-1984
Teddy bear with detached head before and after conservation
Teddy bear with detached head
Before and after conservation
Limbs sometimes needed to be re-attached.
'Blackie', Teddy Bear
Stuffed and sewn mohair plush
Museum no. MISC.1-1971